They couldn’t be more different.
A new study from Johns Hopkins University suggests exactly what many conservative activists have been complaining about for years: Washington is out of touch with the rest of America.
From Johns Hopkins:
Surveying 850 people who either work in government or directly with it, researchers found that the inside-the-Beltway crowd has very little in common with America at large. Washington insiders are more likely to be white. They are more educated. Their salaries are higher, they vote more and have more faith in the fairness of elections. They are probably Democrat and liberal. They more diligently follow the news. And they think the mechanizations of government couldn’t be easier to comprehend.
There are easy and reasonable explanations for much of this: if you live in Washington, you likely either work for the government, or work at a firm that works with the government. Many of these jobs are specialized—law, policy analysis, statistical consulting—and generally require a graduate degree. Of course you vote—that’s how you decide who you have to put up with at work for the next two, four, or six years. You read the news because you’re either in it, making it, writing it, or countering it.
But we all know that when it comes to mass messaging and perception, none of that matters.
“The elements of difference we have identified between the rulers and the ruled — demographic, experiential, partisan and ideological — give us some reason to suspect that the two groups may not perceive the political world in the same way,” the authors write. “Taken together, these elements could well create a substantial cognitive and perceptual gulf between official and quasi-official Washington on the one hand and the American public on the other.”
There you have it. “Real America” is more diverse, less wealthy, more conservative, less educated, and less informed. But does all this really matter?
If only “Real America” is represented, what happens to the voices of wealthy Americans with professional degrees? Conversely, if only the wealthy are represented, what happens to the voices of the middle class?
It all comes down to perspective. The first thing I think of when I think of someone who represents me is someone who has been instructed in the canons of statutory interpretation. I want bookish and deliberate; I want an engaging but thoughtful speaker. I have no patience for timewasting rhetoric. I’m also coming from the perspective of a practicing attorney who has been trained to write and interpret legislation. Someone else’s version of their perfect Senator or pundit may be completely different—but that doesn’t make it wrong.
Let’s say it again: that doesn’t make it wrong.
We need the brains, because they write the policy. We need the firebrands, because they rally the troops. Washington isn’t the Borg; it’s the Breakfast Club: a swampy, weird, ugly-pretty sampling of all that America has to offer.
We can either learn from each other, or ignore the realities of policymaking while we fight each other. I know what I pick.
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